The first time I saw the term "post-EDM" was in a Facebook rant A-Trak posted in November of 2014. Apparently, after driving through Hollywood and seeing a DJ on every billboard, the Canadian producer came to the realization that EDM had reached a comical level of self-aggrandizement and cheesiness—and that the scene was due for a change. "Sometimes [...] an initial wave of flashy music can knock down the doors and more interesting music can come after," he wrote. "After that initial gateway drug of hands-in-the-air anthems, I'm seeing more and more kids getting interested in good, nuanced, forward thinking music."
The rant ends with a question: "Are we entering a post-EDM chapter?"
Nearly two years later, however you define "post-EDM," it's a label that appears to be gaining traction amongst fans. Three weeks ago, there was only one playlist using the term "post-EDM" on Spotify, but in the past 10 days, I've noticed a handful of user-generated ones popping up too. Since then, the original playlist has gone from 22 songs to 56, and from 18,000 followers to nearly 35,000. It's populated by tracks with live instrumentation and a traditional verse-chorus-verse song format, and it's not the only archive of its kind. A quick search on YouTube returns a handful of similar post-EDM playlists, most of them created within the last 90 days.
Though it's unclear who coined term, it dates at least as far back as a November 2013 article on PAPER about Rudimental, which described the drum and bass-driven group as "leading the pack of post-EDM electronic acts whose dance-oriented music is enhanced by complex electronic production but not necessarily dominated by it." A working definition of post-EDM—at least according to the PAPER article and many of the artists I spoke to for this piece—might therefore look like this: electronic music that includes live instruments and recreates the magical spontaneity of hearing a rock band playing on stage.
Crywolf, the LA-based producer born Justin Phillips, has multiple tracks on the first Spotify playlist I discovered. He's been fusing rock elements with dance music for the last five years. To write and record his debut album Cataclysm, released last fall, Phillips holed up in a remote fishing village in Iceland; he used everything from an electric guitar to drumsticks and an Ikea pot as instruments, and documented the entire process. This fall, he's touring as a one-man band—primarily in live music venues rather than clubs.
"You can only get so far with playing recordings you've made out [of] a laptop and speakers," he told THUMP. "If there's no substance to a performance, people are going to eventually get bored. Incorporating live instrumentation and vocals into the styling of electronic music seems to be happening a lot more now." Philips offered a helpful analogy between the evolution of hardcore techno in the mid-2000's and that of dance music today: "If you look at hardcore music, it was rhythmic with really heavy drops—almost a-melodic, similar to how dubstep was. Then post-hardcore was taking that same heaviness and incorporating all these beautiful, melodic sounds and vocals. This is a totally logical progression for EDM."
Following the aforementioned A-Trak Facebook post, the next time I heard someone use the term "post-EDM" was during an interview with producer and vocalist Anna Yvette earlier this summer; in fact, she was the one who'd turned me on to the Spotify playlist in the first place. Fans of the indie dance label Monstercat are used to seeing her name as a featured vocalist, but she's also a multi-instrumentalist and seasoned producer. Having grown up on pop-punk and emo, Anna has always had a soft spot for live musicianship. "I grew up on punk/emo music, and each live show I've been to feels special and unique," she explained. "The artists pour their heart and soul into a unique performance that can never be replicated again—you had to be there."
These days, Yvette says she's been seeing more and more former EDM producers around her—many of whom also frequented punk shows growing up—tapping into that thrill as well. "For the past five years, artists/vocalists have taken a back seat in dance music to the producer," she explains. "Now, we are seeing the pendulum swing back towards live, raw performance. Maybe it's because an actual live performance is so rare nowadays in the electronic community, or maybe it's because we all want to re-live a time when you went to a show to hear a different version of a song live, and not just a VIP mashup of it."
Post-EDM represents a break with the intro-build-drop-breakdown-rinse-repeat dance music formula mainstream consumers have grown accustomed to. When I asked who else was pioneering this kind of music, Yvette and Crywolf both pointed me towards Grabbitz (real name Nick Chiari), who popped up on my radar last year when deadmau5 tweeted a rare compliment regarding Grabbitz' vocal edit of the mau5's own "Silent Pictures," inviting him to help finish the song. Grabbitz showed up again at the International Music Summit in Los Angeles in April, where he did a performance singing over his own productions and accompanied by guitarist and producer Keaton Prescott, who goes by Sullivan King. Grabbitz and King both identify with the post-EDM movement, albeit with an eye-roll for how hideously cheesy the terminology sounds.
"Post-EDM is not a genre, it's a time period," says Grabbitz, who's getting ready to release a full length album of alt rock-dance crossover tracks this fall, aptly titled Things Change. "It's a musical response from musicians who've been involved with or influenced by EDM that are breaking out of it for one reason or another. For me, it's [about being] more expressive—I can't be emo enough through electronic production alone."
Why Is This Happening Now?
There's been a great deal of talk in the last few years about the EDM bubble bursting, and whether or not you subscribe to that notion, the genre—as both a of music and a culture—seems to have reached a saturation point. Not everybody can be a Flosstradamus or a Brillz, and as the market becomes glutted with too many booty-bass-dropping trap producers to count, it's easy for a genre to fall into a rut of stale imitation. When this happens, it's an artist's best interests to evolve musically—or at least put some kind of food-themed bucket on her head to add a little novelty to the equation.
Unbeknownst to many a new American raver, many of EDM's major players have deep roots in the alt-rock-emo-hardcore scene of the early 2000's. Heavy bass producer and guitarist Sullivan King is quick to point out how many Warped Tour-esque artists followed in Skrillex's footsteps, making the exodus from post-hardcore, punk, and screamo to electronic music. Think: MSTRKRFT, Bro Safari, Kill the Noise, Breathe Carolina, and Ghastly.
"There wasn't a ton of room for expansion in that [Warped Tour] scene," King told THUMP. "And when people started to notice dance music becoming relevant, it seemed like a sure-fire move to make the transition. Compared to riding around for hours or days in a hot van with 5 other people, flying somewhere with just a laptop, playing for an hour and going home is a far better deal."
Although it's not an obvious link when you don't have the backstory, from a purely emotional standpoint, high energy, head-banging hardcore and screamo isn't that far off from high-energy, head-banging electro and dubstep. There's a shared emotional catharsis at both dance and rock shows, a combination of up-tempo highs and heavy-hitting, bass-driven lows that bonds a crowd together in an almost primal way. And for artists looking to breathe new life into their craft, revisiting one's musical roots is always a logical first step.
These days, there's no greater testament to the crossover between Warped Tour culture and clubland than the success of Emo Night in LA and Brooklyn, a dance party defined by DJ sets that shamelessly mix throwback emo songs with modern dance and hip-hop tracks. As Emo Night co-founder Morgan Freed of LA's creative marketing collective Ride or Cry explained to THUMP, "Bands like Taking Back Sunday and Brand New have songs that go hard, just as hard as any rap or dance tracks people are into now."
Given the millennial skew of EDM, it makes sense that people in the 18-35 year old demographic—many of which grew up going to Warped Tour, then converted to raver-dom as young adults—would go nuts for the hybrid emo-throwback-modern-DJ-set model Emo Night provides. The success of the format over since Emo Night's 2014 inception in LA suggests that the EDM market is ripe for a nostalgia-fueled deviation from the status quo, and the post-EDM movement is just that.
Will DJs Become Obsolete?
The short answer is no. DJs will never become obsolete in a club setting, but the festival market might be another story. As with any sort of live music curation, the onus is on electronic music festival promoters to create an experience consumers can feel good about spending their paycheck on. DJ sets are obviously a live art form in their own right, with crowds responding in real-time to the music, and DJs responding in kind. But having seen artists like the faceless, Grammy-nominated California producer Zhu play live—with a guitarist, sax player, and proprietary DJ booth and visuals—I can say I wouldn't be surprised if acts with live instrumentation became more in-demand in coming years, if only because they offer the sort of immersive live experiences you simply can't get from listening to an album or DJ mix.
"As my love for dance music progressed, a part of me has always felt cheated by watching a DJ pretend to be hard at work while twisting knobs to their pre-recorded set," says Anna Yvette. "Everything you've ever wanted to know about production and mixing can be found on YouTube or a reddit forum. The man behind the curtain is fully exposed, and audiences and artists alike are all left longing for the magic of a unique live experience."
In any case, acts like Grabbitz and Crywolf seem like they'd be equally at home in a festival context and in a rock venue one. That's the interesting thing about post-EDM: the EDM components and the rock band components aren't mutually exclusive, but reinforce each other. When I spoke on the phone with Grabbitz, he pointed out that while his musical roots are in alt-rock, his experience producing dance tracks is what drives his current style. "I was so immersed in making bass music I forgot about my guitar for awhile," he said. "But if I hadn't dedicated all that time to learning how to produce, I wouldn't have been able to arrive at the sound I have now, which I think is more sophisticated."
Who's making post-EDM?
Krewella might be the most pristine example of the EDM to post-EDM evolution. Since starting out as singer-songwriters who idolized bands like Incubus in 2007, they've gone full circle, switching to electronic production and DJing in 2009; touring as DJS and releasing an album full of proper bangers called Get Wet in 2014; then returning with a new live band set-up at Ultra 2015. Their latest EP, Ammunition, is culmination of this transformation; a collection of proper songs ranging from 87-150 BPM, it's characterized by electronic sounds, but can hardly be called a dance record. In an interview with THUMP this summer, Yasmine explained the band's rationale: "If you listen to other tracks on the EP like 'Marching On' or 'Ammunition,' it definitely doesn't have much of a dubstep sound. We're calling it alternative dance music." Krewella are currently on their nationwide Sweatbox Tour playing two shows per night in each city: one with a live band, and an afterparty where they play a DJ set.
Porter Robinson is another electronic artist who's seen success incorporating live instrumentation into his sound. His 2014 album, Worlds, was a 90-100 BPM departure from EDM-leaning hits like "Easy" with Mat Zo or "Language," which both land in the dancefloor-friendly neighborhood of 128. For the corresponding Worlds Tour, Robinson played keys and an electronic drumkit, and even sang a bit.
22-year-old French producer Madeon, for his part, has been singing at his live shows since 2015. For Adventure, his debut album that year, he collaborated with the likes of Passion Pit singer Michael Angelakos and Foster the People's singer Mark Foster. Recently, he released a joint track, "Shelter," with Robinson; it retains the intro-build-drop breakdown of many EDM tracks, but clocks in at a slower 100 BPM, and incorporates vocals and drums that sound distinctly indie rock. The producers' joint North American tour, Shelter Live, kicks off in Atlanta on September 29. If their ambiguous announcements are any indication, they'll be debuting some heretofore unseen live collaborations—expect yearning vocals, misty instrumentation, and aggressively emo singalongs.
Other newer artists populating the post-EDM landscape include Youngr, a one-man band who records himself live playing keys, guitar, bass, and drums; loops and mixes it; then sings over results. Irish singer-songwriter-producer EDEN is another must—he formerly released dubstep and drum 'n bass as The Eden Project before going full indie-pop and changing his alias to EDEN in April of last year. Or you can also go pay a visit to Indietronic, the playlist formerly known at post-EDM on Spotify.
That's right: the Spotify playlist that inspired this piece isn't called "post-EDM" anymore. Spotify employee Austin Kramer, who curates all the dance music playlists on the app, told THUMP he decided to change the name after noticing a movement away from kick-driven tracks to more vocal-driven songs over the past few months. "Indietronic is a collection of electronic artists exploring new sounds and cadence, not necessarily at 128 BPM," he said. Of course, even if post-EDM does become a "thing," it's likely that artists will choose a different name to describe it—or shrug off the idea of a label entirely, as musicians are wont to do. However you choose to described this melding of the rock band experience with electronics, it's a sign that many millennial producers who made their name on EDM stages are doing what artists are supposed to do: growing.